Across the Margin continues its rollout of the Best Albums of 2015 with albums 40-31….
In case you need to play catch up, albums 50 – 41 can be found here. And now, the countdown continues…
40. Patrick Watson – Love Songs For Robots
The smooth, mellow, intricate and altogether dreamy incantations of Patrick Watson’s ballads have always drawn us in. On Love Songs for Robots, Watson’s signature sound has never been so evident, his hollow-sounding falsetto reminiscent of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, never so powerful. And yet….it all feels so entirely new. It’s a strange thing, this musical déjà vu, to listen to these tracks with the knowledge that this is the Patrick Watson you’ve come to know, yet the songs dancing across the mossy fathoms of your mind are defying comparison to anything you’ve heard from him before. If this is to be your first exposure to the talented singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist, than you’ve chosen a wondrous place to dive in. With every sound in its right place and coming together to create a musical experience bordering on otherworldly, Love Songs for Robots is that singular album that ponders the ways in which we love each other with a musical focus that borders on perfectionism.
Essential tracks: “Hearts,” “Grace,” “Turn Into the Noise.”
39. Fuzz – II
Ty Segall’s prodigious output makes us wonder if he has anything else in his life besides music. It makes us wonder, does he even eat? Does he read? Does he watch movies? Is he excited for The Force Awakens, like everyone else? Regardless of however many questions we may have, the fact of the matter is that the more Segall, the better, and Fuzz, where Ty Segall mans the drum kit, is one of our favorites of his many projects. Joined by Charles Moothart, and Chad Ubovich, II is even chunkier and grittier album than Fuzz’s self-titled debut, as thunderous guitar chords lay the foundation, and where even more brawny guitar riffs are built upon it. As Fuzz themselves describe their music, “The mood is not light. The songs project a state of perpetual paranoia and eroding mental health.” II is an album of fourteen absolute monsters, commencing with a seven minute barnburner entitled, “Time Collapse pt. II / The 7th Terror” – just so you know they aren’t playing around.
38. Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs
Jim O’Rourke has, all too often, been the man behind the curtain. The one that pulls all the levers and strings making those around him look all that much better. The primary example of what we are referring to is that fact that O’Rourke recorded and mixed one of our favorite albums of all time, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, as he has been the backbone of some of the more prominent experimental releases of the last few decades1, which made the release of Simple Songs, a paired down, delightful romp, that much more intriguing. While experimentation and avant-garde production is well within O’Rourke’s wheelhouse, as are sparse arrangements with pop and folk undertones. Simple Songs presents O’Rourke as a singer-songwriter, and we have been yearning to come across this version of him since 2001’s Insignificance, an album we fell deeply in love with. Simple Songs is gentle. It’s weird and brainy, and one of the most unforgettable albums to be released this year.
37. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
At twenty six years old, Leon Bridges has the lyricism and musical fortitude of a man many years his senior. With his unique brand of soulful 50s and 60s music described as a “transmission from the heart,” it’s hard not to fall back on shades of Otis Redding or Sam Cooke when listening to Coming Home’s artful blend of rhythm and blues. A talented performer with an eye for fashion, Bridges is the type of musician who dresses for the genre of the music he sings, his vintage clothing and throw-back style adding to the prestige and pedigree of his distinctive soul-revival sound. The gentleness to Bridges voice, the pounding waves of reverb, the all female backing singers, the doo-wop you can’t help but move in rhythm to, and the droning crush of horns and organs all come together on Coming Home to create a sound that while not unique, is just as welcome on our doorstep as when Amy Winehouse wowed us with Back to Black or Alabama Shakes impressed us with Sound & Color. While Bridges may just be starting out, if Coming Home is the sort of soul-revival music that he intends to create, than you can count us among his devoted fans.
36. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Paper Mâche Dream Balloon
Paper Mâche Dream Balloon is easily the most complete and captivating album released by the seven piece psychedelic garage band from Melbourne, Australia known as King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Electing to invoke a more delicate sound on their second album of 2015, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard crafts an album of beach pop that is both a psychedelic throwback, and a welcome excursion into the abilities of this oddity from Down Under. Turning down the volume, and practicing restraint over the excess that defines them, has revealed a crafty songwriting team, and a surprisingly charming album liberally doused with flutes, harmonicas, and violins. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s innate weirdness takes center stage on an album that is all sunshine, rainbows, ponies, ice cream and of course, paper mâche dream balloons.
35. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi Love
Multi-Love is sort of a departure for Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The Portland via New Zealand psych rock band, composed of singer, guitarist and songwriter Ruban Nielson, bassist Jake Portrait and drummer Riley Geare, shed a measure of dissidence on their third studio release, and embrace a peppierier, funkier groove at times. While the psych-folk pop of their previous albums is blissful in its own right, the undulating disco groove that provides the backbone of Multi-Love is equally intoxicating and emancipating. Based on a year long polyamorous relationship Nielson was entangled in that affected him deeply (“Multi-love got me on my knee / Mama what have you done to me? / I’m half-crazy.”), Multi-Love ventures off into a realm where you wonder if UMO is as influenced as much by Prince as they are by Dungen or Can. Nielsen’s timid falsetto and guttural whispers shine over this newfound pulse, and luckily Mult-Love remains blithely masked in that lo-fi psychedelic haze and trademarked sparseness that is a staple of UMO’s sound.
34. Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble
We have reached a point where we have to somehow stop identifying Glen Hansard solely with Once, “Falling Slowly,” and his days with The Swell Season. Although this seminal period in his career touched many, including us, there is so much more to Glen Hansard’s twenty-five year career than that heart-rending film and the wondrous duo of Glen and Markéta Irglová. And the Irish troubadour’s second solo release is proof positive of the urgency to stop looking at what Hansard has done in the past, and focus on what he is doing now. Didn’t He Ramble finds Hansard again with his heart on his sleeve, heartsick with loss, but ever hopeful and abounding with spirit and resolve. It is amazing how succinct of an album Didn’t He Ramble is, especially considering all of its unique components, such as the subtle, deeply moving intro (“Grace Beneath the Pines”), the song of atonement (“McCormack’s Wall”), the ode to a parent (“Paying My Way”) and the buoyant rocker (“Lowly Deserter”). While the arrangements on Didn’t He Ramble are more complex and full-bodied than the majority of Hansard’s solo work, this gorgeous, earnest album is at its best when he is utilizing the two instruments which he masters: his guitar, and his wistful, impassioned voice.
33. Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment – Surf
Surf is a huge team effort. The long-awaited collaboration between Chance the Rapper and his band the Social Experiment, and featuring Donnie Trumpet (the alias of Nico Segal), Peter Cottontale, and Nate Fox, this album has more surprises than a rich kids birthday party. The album plays like a greatest hits of Chance the Rappers friends (both small and big), with the likes of Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, Busta Rhymes, Jeremih, Big Sean, J. Cole, Jamila Woods, NoName Gypsy, and Francis Starlite – just to name a few – featuring heavily on the album’s sixteen butt-moving, smile-sparking, unpredictable and thought-provoking tracks. With hints of trumpets and horns and big-band aspirations mixed with quick-spit lyrics and a fun, rapid-fire delivery, Surf is the sort of creative brand of music steeped in collaboration, not individual ego, that is a breath of fresh air to the music industry. Released as a free download, head on over to iTunes and get yourself a copy of this jazz-fusion album’s bright and carefree flow before this ocean’s “surf” washes it away.
32. C Duncan – Architect
C Duncan’s debut album Architect has our hearts. The Scottish composer from Glasgow hails from a family of classical musicians, and while classically trained himself, Duncan’s music is progressive dreampop where he crafts lush landscapes of intonations. Architect is as soothing of an album as we came across this year, a textured patchwork of full-bodied choral harmonies and lo-fi folk that overwhelms the senses. C Duncan’s process is painstaking. Working in a Glaswegian bedroom studio, he records each instrument individually, and then meticulously weaves the elaborate web of sound together. But while the process is labored, the result is relaxed. It’s alleviating. And while Architect is the sort of album you’d hope for from a musician with such a rich education in music, we just can’t wait to see what comes next. In the meantime, we’ll happily immerse ourselves in the the land of enchantment that is Architect.
31. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
Sleater-Kinney’s triumphant return, with their first album since 2005’s The Woods, came with all the fan-fare and critical acclaim you would expect from such an illustrious musical act. And it pleases us to confirm that all the praise and love heaped upon it was entirely substantiated as No Cities to Love, their eighth studio album, is not only one of the best of this year’s offerings, but potentially their best work to date. No Cities barrels ahead at the pace of a speeding locomotive, yet somehow remains patient and focused as an oblique and tightly-knit thirty two minute jaunt. The album features what we find to be their most interesting lyrical work yet, with lyrics rife with self-mockery and introspection. It’s been fun to watch Carrie Brownstein’s star rise as of late, with the release of her fascinating memoir and her thriving television and film career. But the fact of the matter is, Carrie is a rocker, and she does her best work in tandem with Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss. But as the album comes to its conclusion with “Fade,” the final line offered reads, “If we are truly dancing our swan song, darling, shake it like never before.” No Cities to Love surely shakes it like never before, but we can only hope the mention of a swan song is merely a quip. Because from what we can hear, Sleater-Kinney have far more to give.
- Jim O’Rourke has produced albums by Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Superchunk, Joanna Newsom, and that is just to name a few. [↩]